Experimental Soundscapes at the Fish Factory

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You’d be forgiven for seeing the words “Experimental Open Mic” and picturing someone headbutting a piano whilst reciting an Inuit poem, or indeed a band playing jazz using only kitchen utensils. The experimental label lends itself to such misconceptions regarding the form and function of the art/performance; flashing lights and grating sounds being conjured to the forefront of one’s mind. Unlike other labels or genres, experimental is not a prescriptive one, it does not dictate any one component of the performance. The fundamental tenet is simple: experiment.

And so, I found myself clambering out the back of my friend’s Fiat, anxiously dragging away at a roll-up as a thin dew of sweat formed on my brow. We unloaded our instruments and equipment and walked through the brightly painted threshold of the Fish Factory. Inside, a modest crowd were spread out over tables, chatting away as a few figures hunched over synthesizers and laptops. It was a relaxed atmosphere. We found a spot to sit and dropped our gear at our feet, as a friend cautiously approached the chalkboard, etching our name at the bottom of the list.

The sounds carried around the room; arpeggiated oscillators met with the rich tones of a cello and exchanged memories from another time and place

The music began to pick up as we settled in. Electronic noises emanated from the hunched figures who fiddled with their complex modular instruments. I began to relax, but only a little. The sounds carried around the room; arpeggiated oscillators met with the rich tones of a cello and exchanged memories from another time and place. I became lost in the music as I tried to distract myself from the nervous energy firing from my synapses. Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. The organiser grabbed the mic, and then read the dreaded words from the board: “Next up we have…”

I hadn’t performed in years. I was drawn to the limelight as a child, however, as I grew older, I found it less and less appealing. That is, until I got to university. I quickly became friends with two of my course mates, both of whom made music as a hobby, and two years later it was these two who I approached the stage with. I say stage, it was really two chairs and a table – we were offered another, we declined. And so, crouching between my pals and hidden behind a laptop and two synths, we began our performance. It went well. People were smiling. And as we reached the final section of the song, I did the unthinkable: I pressed the wrong button. The music stopped. The three of us glanced at each other. I turned as red as a London bus. And then, everybody clapped.

It’s easy to get caught up in mistakes when you think the whole world sees them. It isn’t so easy to recognise that not everybody sees them through your eyes. What was a catastrophic failure to me, by me, was written off as an experimental ending. We were asked to play another. We hadn’t prepared one. So, we improvised a symphony of gaseous noises with a one note bassline from me, packed up, and left the stage for the next group. I was relieved. We dropped our gear off with the friends who’d come to watch, and I hurried outside to have another smoke. As I was nursing my heart rate back down, one of the previous performers came out and introduced himself. I’ll keep his kind words to myself, but what I will share is how they resonated. Immediately, any concern of a conspiracy among the crowd to spare our blushes evaporated, and I stopped kicking myself for my simple mistake.

I’d like to invite anyone who reads this to visit the Fish Factory, whether you’re a performer or just enjoy listening. They put on numerous events, from weaving workshops to gigs, and they have a lot lined up from the start of this year onwards. I’d also like to invite everyone to ease up on themselves. We’re all young and we can’t expect ourselves to be perfect. Go out there and put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, make mistakes, and move upward.